The first Super Smash Bros. Brawl trailer released when I was nine and it made a definite impression on me. The inclusion of Meta Knight, Pit, and Wario were all things I had wanted after seeing their trophies in my (at the time) favorite game, Super Smash Bros. Melee [大乱闘スマッシュブラザーズDX]
. The stinger reveal of Solid Snake blew me away and the grandiose feel of the game made my grade school self far more excited than any kid should be about any game. The Smash Bros. Dojo was the first thing I visited in the morning and I even signed up on message boards to speculate on what the roster could be. Brawl even marked the first time I went on a media blackout after the game was released in Japan two months before it saw release in the States.
March 9th 2008. My brother and I drove to pick up our copy at midnight and we played it until 6 in the morning. By March 11th, I had beaten Subspace Emissary, unlocked all the characters, and racked up over 200 kills with Ike. I was enjoying the game but there were some doubts lingering at the back of my head. I was disappointed by the absence of a playable Ridley, sure, but there were deeper issues. The slow pace of the game, the tripping, the fact that Subspace was a crushing disappointment. For a short time, I didn't know if Brawl was just a victim of hype or if Brawl actually had issues.
I continued to play Brawl daily, just as I did with Melee, but items were kept on and my brother's friends who played Melee competitively never really moved on to Brawl. Regardless, I put in hundreds of hours into the game between matches with my friends, my brother, and the single-player. Due to a series of events that resulted in me buying a 2nd Wii, I was able to go back to Brawl with a fresh file, allowing me to look at Brawl with a fresh set of eyes. And in doing so, I found a lot to like about it. And a lot to dislike like about it as well.
Brawl's faults have been well-covered. Tripping is an abominable miscalcuation on the dev team's part as it disrupts the flow of the matches and adds an element of randomness that practically killed the game's competitive life. The floatiness of the physics make it harder to get KOs and can drag a match out for what feels like forever. Subspace Emissary is a poorly designed Kirby game with a washed-out color pallet and feels like a waste of manpower and disc space. Even the trophy selection is lackluster compared to Melee's, promoting the much-loathed Donkey Kong Barrel Blast without even a mention of more obscure titles in Nintendo's history, something Melee's trophy section excelled in.
The most vocal critics of Brawl often talk about the tripping and the floatiness and the game's poor balance all of which ruined the game's competitive viability. And their complaints are valid and true. What is often overshadowed though is how this game's balance is broken even at a casual level. I'm not a great Smash player, you'll never see me at EVO, but I can get KOs if nothing else. With the exception of the heavy hitters like Ike or Ganondorf, it is extraordinarily difficult to KO in Brawl. Items become a must just because they speed up the pace of matches. Brawl wasn't made with competitive players in mind but I doubt Melee was either. However, Melee at least seems like it was made to be played without items, the game's speed is indicative of that. Brawl just seems like it was made for friends of the people who actually bought Brawl. The people who will play it a handful of times and never again.
That's not to say that there isn't a lot to like about the game. The core gameplay of Smash Brothers is addicting and stellar. And on the surface, Brawl is a ton of fun. It's when you invest as much time in it as I (and many others) have that you begin to see problems arise. If Sakurai was trying to make the ultimate casual fighting game, he succeeded. The character roster is large, varied, and a wonderful celebration of Nintendo history, the stages look great and most of them are fun in their own way, and the soundtrack is one of the greatest "Best Of" soundtracks of all time and that's without mentioning the many top-notch arrangements.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl makes a lot missteps but I still managed to mine an embarrassing amount of time out of the game. In the end, the game both was and wasn't a victim of hype. Brawl has notable issues, many of which would be addressed in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U [大乱闘スマッシュブラザーズ for Nintendo 3DS / Wii U]
but the core of Smash Bros is so well thought out and Sakurai and his team are so skilled at what they do that it is legitimately difficult to say that Brawl is a bad game or even an average one. Melee was a tough act to follow and even if Brawl isn't moving any mountains, it is still a great way to kick back and kill some time with friends.